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Photo Credit: Lee Yi Wen

The legend as to why Chinese New Year is celebrated

Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, is one of the most important festivals in Chinese tradition. It is vastly celebrated by Chinese communities worldwide.

There is little difference on how Chinese New Year is celebrated in different countries, since most people follow the same traditions. According to the traditional lunisolar Chinese calendar, the first day of New Year usually falls on the new moon between 20th January and 21th of February. The first day of Chinese New Year this year falls on Saturday 28th of January; and for this year, it is the year of Rooster.

Legend tells of a horrifying monster, called Xi (夕), which terrorized the people in a nearby village once a year on New Year’s Eve in ancient China. The monster would awake from its slumber each year on New Year’s Eve and emerge from the sea to eat people and livestock in the village. The villagers tried everything, but there was nothing they could do to banish Xi. Hence, each year on New Year’s Eve, villagers have to flee into the mountains where Xi cannot harm them.

One day, the King of the Gods, Yu Di (玉帝), heard of this news and he ordered a god called Nian (年) to banish Xi and save the villagers. Nian came down from heaven and taught the villagers tricks to keep Xi away. He told them to prepare firecrackers and red clothes to fend off Xi. The villagers were sceptical at first, but they decided to heed Nian’s advice and did as they were told.

New Year’s Eve quickly came, and this time, the villagers did not flee to the mountains. They stayed in the village and embraced themselves for the arrival of Xi. Red cloths were draped all over the houses in the village and the villagers prepared hundreds of firecrackers. They waited patiently until Xi finally arrived, emerging from the sea just like the previous New Year’s Eves, about to terrorize the villagers.

When the villagers saw Xi, they quickly set off the fireworks and made loud noises by beating the gongs and drums they owned. And as it turned out, Xi was terrified of the colour red and loud noises. It would not dare to lay a finger on the villagers, and with the help of Nian, the villagers managed to chase off Xi.

Since then, year after year, the villagers would wear red clothes and set off firecrackers on New Year’s Eve, which eventually became a traditional celebration of Chinese New Year.

New Year’s Eve is also known as “Chu Xi” (除夕) in Chinese, literally translating to “getting rid of Xi,” which thus tells the reason as to why people wear red and set off firecrackers during Chinese New Year.

Though there are many different versions of the legend, they all serve one purpose: to emphasise the importance of inheriting traditions and passing them on to generations after generations.

About Yi Wen Lee

yi.lee@student.reading.ac.uk'
Year 2 International Business and Finance student.

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